BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

What Caused the Bronze Age Collapse?

Eric Cline investigates the collapse of Bronze Age kingdoms around 1177 B.C.

Knossos Palace. Knossos served as the capital of Minoan civilization, and its elaborate palace complex spanned 5 acres. Parts of the palace have been reconstructed. Despite the advancements and connections of the Minoans, their kingdom collapsed in the 12th century B.C.—along with other powerful kingdoms. Eric Cline investigates what caused the Bronze Age collapse. Photo: © Megan Sauter/Biblical Archaeology Society.

Earthquakes. Drought. Famine. Plague. War. Mass migration.

Sadly, we are not strangers to these phenomena. Neither were those who lived in Mediterranean kingdoms during the 12th century B.C. In “1177 B.C.: The Collapse of Bronze Age Civilization,” Eric H. Cline of the George Washington University investigates what caused the Bronze Age collapse. This was not just the collapse of one kingdom, but the collapse of a vast network of interconnected kingdoms—the collapse of Bronze Age civilization. His article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Cline explains that the Late Bronze Age kingdoms were connected through trade networks and political alliances:

These [texts from Bronze Age archives] describe activities commensurate with an intertwined network of commercial and diplomatic interactions, with at least eight different cultures working together on a scale not often seen in the history of the world, bound together through an integrated supply chain that traded in raw materials such as copper, tin, gold, silver, and glass.

Yet, despite their interconnectedness, these kingdoms collapsed around 1177 B.C. Cline identifies a series of environmental and societal factors that contributed to the collapse.

Knossos Throne Room. The Minoans created beautiful, colorful frescoes. At the center of the Knossos palace was a throne room, decorated with frescoes of griffins and plants. Similar frescoes have been found throughout the Mediterranean world, demonstrating the interconnectedness of many Mediterranean kingdoms before the Bronze Age collapse. Photo: Annatsach/CC by-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

What Caused the Bronze Age Collapse?
  1. Invasions. Egyptian and Ugaritic texts record invasions in their lands.
  2. EarthquakesEarthquake damage has been found at sites in Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Jordan.
  3. Drought. Ancient pollen reveals that a large drought affected much of the Mediterranean world, from Italy to Iran.
  4. Famine. Ugaritic and Hittite texts mention famine and beg for assistance.
  5. Disease. Egyptian and Hittite texts record a widespread plague during the 14th and 13th centuries B.C.

Cline explains that the cumulative effect of all these phenomena triggered the Bronze Age collapse:

Perhaps the inhabitants could have survived one disaster, such as an earthquake or a drought, but they could not survive the combined effects of drought, famine, invaders, and earthquakes all occurring in rapid succession. A domino effect then ensued, in which the disintegration of one civilization led to the fall of the others. Given the globalized nature of their world, the effect upon the international trade routes and economies of even one society’s collapse would have been sufficiently devastating that it could have led to the demise of the others.


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We should take a lesson from history: It happened then, and it can happen again. Yet not all is doom and gloom. Cline concludes his article with some hope. Although we face many of the same difficulties today as those who lived in the Bronze Age Mediterranean, we have “the knowledge, technology, and resources” to address some of these stressors and, it is hoped, prevent a global collapse.

Learn more about the Bronze Age collapse—and its implications for today—in Eric H. Cline’s article “1177 B.C.: The Collapse of Bronze Age Civilization,” published in the Summer 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. For a fuller treatment of this subject, see his book 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (revised 2021).

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Subscribers: Read the full article “1177 B.C.: The Collapse of Bronze Age Civilization” by Eric H. Cline in the Summer 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


Read more in Bible History Daily:

Biblical Archaeology for the People

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Earthquake Storms

Aegeans in Israel: Minoan Frescoes at Tel Kabri

When a Mittani Princess Joined Pharaoh’s Harem

The Iconography of Power

Imagining the Minoans

 The Hittites: Between Tradition and History

Littoral Truths

The Trowel vs. the Text

Texts from Ugarit Solve Biblical Puzzles

 

All-Access members watch, 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed in the BAS Library.

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3 Responses

  1. Ned Ewart says:

    Did we read the same book? My understanding is the collapse of the Bronze Age was precipitated by the collapse of the economic system. There were other challenges, but the reason that Bronze Age civilization was unable to respond was the economic system failed.

  2. We have read more or less the same arguments by a number of archaeologists in the last ten years about the end of the Bronze Age. I have a new theory that adds another to the collection of reasons already given. And my extra reason is even more timely today than all the others. You can find mine in my new novel, And The Stars Began To Fall. I am glad to see this interest in the end of the Bronze Age continues, and that it is now correctly being compared to our own times. Did the peoples of the sky join the peoples of the sea and the upheavals of planet earth to create that Big Bang? Are they all conspiring to do it again?

  3. Edwin H Bishop says:

    Wouldn’t invaders suffer the same consequences as those they invaded – namely famine, earthquakes, drought, and disease? Seems a crummy time to invade. and who were these invaders?

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3 Responses

  1. Ned Ewart says:

    Did we read the same book? My understanding is the collapse of the Bronze Age was precipitated by the collapse of the economic system. There were other challenges, but the reason that Bronze Age civilization was unable to respond was the economic system failed.

  2. We have read more or less the same arguments by a number of archaeologists in the last ten years about the end of the Bronze Age. I have a new theory that adds another to the collection of reasons already given. And my extra reason is even more timely today than all the others. You can find mine in my new novel, And The Stars Began To Fall. I am glad to see this interest in the end of the Bronze Age continues, and that it is now correctly being compared to our own times. Did the peoples of the sky join the peoples of the sea and the upheavals of planet earth to create that Big Bang? Are they all conspiring to do it again?

  3. Edwin H Bishop says:

    Wouldn’t invaders suffer the same consequences as those they invaded – namely famine, earthquakes, drought, and disease? Seems a crummy time to invade. and who were these invaders?

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